Sunday, January 31, 2016

Examining the C in TPACK and teaching it through transdisciplinary thinking tools

This Tuesday our faculty meeting will focus on transdisciplinary learning - in particular how we build our understanding of how to teach, assess and report on transdisciplinary skills.  I'm also continuing to read through articles about transdisciplinary learning for my upcoming online workshop, and am blogging about my thoughts.

First of all it's important to understand the difference between transdisciplinary and inter-disciplinary. Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson of Michigan State University argue that being able to identify the deeper themes and habits of mind that cut across disciplinary boundaries is vital for creativity.  They link this with the TPACK model, stating that a transdisciplinary approach is greatly supported by the possibilities of digital technologies.  However integrating technology is still a challenge to many educators who feel that many technologies become obsolete as quickly as they arrive (for example today I was reading an article about the extinction of the iPad - once hailed as something that was going to transform education).  Even when teachers are enthusiastic about integrating technology, many studies have identified teacher knowledge as one of the key barriers for effective integration.

Enter TPACK.  In this framework content knowledge (CK), pedagogical knowledge (PK) and technology knowledge (TK) come together as critical for using technology in a transformative way. TPACK is now taught in many teacher education courses and is part of teacher PD.  However Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson argue that within the TPACK framework there is little guidance about what content to teach, which pedagogies are useful and what kinds of technologies are worth using in teaching.  They argue that the C in TPACK has to be identified so that the other parts can work together in achieving the content goals.

In today's world, many educators have argued for a new form of learning with an emphasis on what has come to be called "21st century skills".  However, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and developing traits such as curiosity and adaptability are often discussed in ways that ignore content.  Howard Gardner argues that disciplinary thinking is important - and that creativity cannot occur without some domain in which it can be evaluated.  That being said, most of the way that disciplines are structured in schools is not very useful today as it limits the learning that is most important to the future of our students: most of the jobs of the future will be "hyphenated jobs", (bio-mechanics, environmental-engineering and so on, at the intersection of two or more disciplines.  The future of learning needs to emphasise being able to move creatively across disciplines, to cross-pollinate ideas from one field to another.  A transdisciplinary approach values the disciplines and also moves across them looking for common patterns and strategies.  It helps students move beyond one "correct" solution as it integrates many solutions, viewpoints and perspectives.

Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson propose 7 key transdisciplinary thinking tools (cognitive skills):
  1. Perceiving - critical in both arts and sciences which require observing through the senses and imaging, being able to evoke the impressions and sensations we observe without the presence of external stimuli.  They argue that artists, scientists, mathematicians and engineers all have well developed imaging skills that are vital for their work.  Both observation and imaging can be developed with practise, and teachers can design opportunities for students to develop these skills.
  2. Patterning - creative people are always recognising patterns and forming new patterns.  Teachers can also help student develop patterning skills in both arts and science subjects.
  3. Abstracting - creative people also use abstracting to concentrate on one feature of a thing or process.  Abstracting also allows analogies to be found between seemingly disparate things, for example during a compare and contrast activity.
  4. Embodied thinking - this includes kinesthetic thinking with the body and feelings and empathising to imagine yourself in another person's position.  Sports, dance and the arts are great for developing these skills.
  5. Modeling - requires abstracting and dimensional thinking, for example to change the scale of something.
  6. Deep Play - encouraging the imagination through play may open doors to new ways of thinking, as play is open-ended and leads to transformational thinking.  Creative people in all different disciplines all speak of the value of play.
  7. Synthesizing - another "mind for the future" as described by Howard Gardner, synthesizing involves putting multiple ways of knowing together into a multi-faceted and cohesive kind of knowing.
In recent years ASB has put together our ATLs (Approaches to Learning).  I'm interested to see how these relate to the transdisciplinary thinking tools described above.  Ours are divided in the following way:

Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Habits
  • Managing Complexity
  • Collaboration and Social Skills
Cognitive Habits
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity and Innovation
Hopefully at our faculty meeting on Tuesday these will be unpacked into student friendly learning targets and we will develop a shared language and understanding that teachers can use to create rubrics, to plan engagements, to assess students and to report on learning. 

Photo Credit: merwing✿little dear via Compfight cc

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